An Annoying Paradise - Daria 7 - Is It Graduation Yet? (1)

"You seem pretty quiet tonight."

Jane stops noisily slurping her noodles. "I feel like an idiot."

"I'm not touching that one."

"Lately I have been jealous of Keibin for monopolizing Tom's time."

"Wasn't that supposed to be the point? To throw Friday's Magazine off the scent?"

"I know. It doesn't make sense, but I feel it anyway."

"How does Brittany feel?"

"She feels the same way, but she doesn't feel like an idiot."

"Somewhere there is a idiomatic yojijukugo (2) to describe this."

"Um, excuse me?"

Daria looks up to see an older girl, around college age. "Can I help you?"

"Are you Asamura Daria?"

"Who wants to know?"

"I'm Ikuda Alana. I must apologize for being a rotten Harmony Project leader and not introducing myself to you before."

"It's okay, I am not even official yet."

"Strange, to hear T talk about you one would think you have already debuted."

Daria blushes. "Has the thought ever crossed people's minds that T might be kidding?"

"He kids all the time, but he would never kid about someone's chances."

"Well, I guess now we have met. Now what?"

"I need a favor from you."

Both Daria and Jane's eyes open wide.

"How much trouble will I get into?"

Alana laughs. "Nothing like that. I graduate in a week and I would like my last blog entry to be memorable."

"You realize that I have never done a blog post?"

"T told me that you were a great writer."

"You realize that Harmony Project, if they screen your blog entries, might throw out something I would write?"

"I'm sure it would be fine."

"Well, okay. Just write down where your blog is and I will look through it to get ideas."

Alana writes down the URL on a napkin. "Thanks! I have to run now. Bye!"

"What a weirdo!"

Daria looks startled. "Why is she weird?"

"She glanced at my chest, shrugged and looked away."

"Isn't that a good thing?"

"Maybe, but I still feel disrespected."

...

Stacy and Quinn ride the bus together looking at fashion magazines.

"Hey Quinn, what do you think of this one?"

Quinn looks at the picture and frowns. "You could do better. I do like the accessory on the chest, but it would look better on one of your dresses."

"Thanks."

Jane looks at her stop watch and sighs.

"I guess our bet is a no contest?"

"It seems unfair that our happiness could be foiled by another person becoming more well-adjusted."

"It's a purely dystopian world for us."

...

Daria and Jane get to their lockers, where Tiffany is waiting for them.

"Jane, I have an idea on how to get our boyfriends back."

Jane and Daria trade confused glances.

"And, what would this idea be?"

"We should make out in front of them to make them jealous."

"Make out with who?"

"Each other."

Daria can barely suppress her laughter.

"Brittany, putting aside that I don't want to make out with you, aren't you forgetting the fact that Tomu and Keibin haven't broken up with us?"

"They haven't?"

"Doesn't Keibin call you every night?"

"No."

"Well, Tomu calls me every night. Maybe you should look for someone new?"

"Wait, is Tomu cheating on my Keiby?"

Daria and Jane face plant.

Desperate to change the topic, Daria sees Natsuko walking by. "Natsuko."

"Yes, senpai?"

"How is it going?"

Natsuko blushes. "Pretty good. But, have you noticed your friend Stacy?"

"She's my sister's friend, but I have noticed that something is up."

"I just saw her walking with three boys who were fawning over her. Isn't that amazing?"

"Well, I guess being a famous manga model has it's perks."

"Did you say something to her to encourage her?"

"Not at all."

"Strange. Oh, Quinn told me that Stacy's dress designs were being highly praised."

"Maybe she has talent?"

"I definitely want to see her dresses on Friday's guild week show."

"Maybe you should ask her if you could model for her?"

"They're using the fashion club girls again. But, this is such a big weekend coming up. First the show, then Alana's graduation."

"Is that supposed to be a big deal?"

"Oh my god! This is the first time a Harmony Project group has played at Budokan. I'm sure that you'll be amazed."

"Well, it will be my first Harmony Project show that I will be going to."

"I'll tell you what to look for."

...

Daria and the rest of the intermediates and official trainees grunt their way through a workout under the guidance of Risa.

Daria hears the other girls gasp and she turns around to see that T has entered the third music hall.

"Please forgive my intrusion. I have some news that I wanted to share with you all. After the concert we will be having another audition for trainees. For you intermediates, this means that you will become senpai's to the eighth generation trainees. I hope that you will take this task seriously and help instill in them Harmony Project's values."

"Yes, T-sama!"

"Well, I will see you at the concert. I hope you intermediates will have fun and support the officials even though they are only back dancing."

"Yes, T-sama!"

"Carry on." T leaves.

Daria looks at Chisako, Minamo, and Natsuko and is pleased to see that they are also horrified.

...

The eight trainees sit around a table slurping ramen.

Manako nudges Akira. "You should go first."

Akira looks flustered, then composes herself. "Well, um, you all are probably nervous right now. I was nervous as well when I found out that I was to be a senpai. But, fortunately, I was lucky and Minamo is mostly low maintenance. Maybe your kouahi's (3) will also be easy going?

Manako nods. "Risu?"

"I agree with Akira. It's very tough and nerve racking, but it is very fulfilling to see your kouhai improve."

Manako nods. "Well, I shouldn't talk about my first kouhai for obvious reasons. But, I do have something to tell that will shock all of you. I will only tell you this so that when it happens you will be better prepared."

Rikoko nudges Manako. "What? What?"

"I'm getting a haircut."

The rest of the table face plants.

"Just kidding. Here's the real story. I have been studying the history of Harmony Project for a while. Six years ago Alana's group started. They started with eight people from the second and third generations of trainees. Three years ago a sister group to Taiyaki School (4) was formed, Diafuku School (5). They also had eight members and used generations four and five. In both cases, the groups were announced at the beginning of the school year around April.

Minamo looks at her comrades nervously.

"Now, April is still several months away. But, my prediction is that the eight of us will debut together as a new group at that time, and ..." Manako turns around dramatically to stare and point, "Daria will be our leader."

Daria's eye grow big. "This is a ghost story, right?"

"No. You probably don't know a lot about idol culture, but the leader of an idol group is always the oldest."

"Wait, I'm the oldest? I thought that Risu was a grade ahead of me."

Risu looks sheepish. "I skipped a year because I was overseas for a couple of years."

"This is still a horrible idea."

Manako chuckles. "Dar-dar, you do know why T chose you, right?"

"He said something lame about my having ambition to be a writer."

"He was kidding. He liked your voice and thought that it was really cheeky for you, a junior high school girl, to talk to him like he was a normal person. He feels that you would make a great leader because you wouldn't be intimidated by TV show hosts."

"Well, none of this has happened yet."

"True. And, there could be something that derails the plan. If you four are not good senpai's T could reconsider."

Daria raises an eyebrow. "Remind me to ask Haruko which bars she went drinking at."

...

"Wow, this is different." Daria stares at Jane's painting which hangs in the gallery for Guild week.

"Who is the guy that your boyfriend is with?" Trent looks at the picture trying not to be embarrassed.

"That is Keibin. Tomu and I got caught by photographers so Tomu's agency is making him pretend to be Keibin's friend."

"Why are they also punishing him?"

"He also got caught with a girl."

Trent looks at the picture closely. "You know, I can see where you wanted to make your boyfriend look good, but this painting kind of breaks some of the rules of yaoi (6). Tomu should have been drawn to look more girly. Also, Tomu is crouching over Keibin in a dominant position, but you can tell from the proportions that Keibin is taller, so he should be the dominant one."

Daria blushes. "You seem to know a lot about yaoi."

"Well, one of my ex-girlfriends was a squealing yaoi fan girl. She made good cookies, though."

The word "cookies" pierces Daria's heart like an arrow.

"Oh my god!"

Daria turns to see Brittney staring at the painting.

"Jane, how could you? This is horrible!"

"Sorry, but it was in my subconscious and I needed to get it out so that I could move on."

Brittney looks at Jane funny. "What are you talking about? Look at Keiby. His expression is all fear with no undercurrents of desire. This makes it look like Tomu is just bullying him."

Trent looks at the painting closely. "Wooow, you're right."

Brittany looks nervously at Jane. "This guy?"

"Oh, Brittany, this is my older brother Trent Lane. Trent, this is Brittany, the girl that I hate for having more talent than me."

"Don't worry, Brittany, lots of guys hate me as well. Have you seen my band? We're called Mystic Spiral Kakko Kari."

"Sounds cool."

Daria sulks making duck lips.

...

"And next, wearing a dress by Asamura Quinn is Sandi."

Daria nudges Jane. "Has her bored hateful expression gotten worse?"

"Ohhh, yes."

Brittany nudges Daria. "Your sister designs dresses?"

"Why yes, she does. She's even considered good at it."

"Then why do you dress in the same unflattering outfit every day?" (7)

Daria flinches, but then regains her composure. "I do it for your sake. I can't have Keibin chasing me all the time."

Brittany looks mad. "Just you wait, I am learning how to make cookies."

Daria mumbles to herself. "Maybe I should, too."

"And next, wearing a dress by Stacy is Tiffany."

From the seat behind Daria's, Natsuko nudges Daria. "I could do better than that model."

Daria giggles and doesn't turn around, wanting to enjoy Tiffany's nervous expression and lack of fluid movement. "Normally I would say to concentrate on what you're good at, but in this case I would have to agree."

Brittany nudges Trent. "Excuse me?"

"What's up?"

"My boyfriend is over on the other side of the catwalk and I need to make him jealous. Can I cuddle up to you?"

"Um, sorry, I am too old for you. It won't make him jealous, it will just make me look like a perv."

"You and your sister are impossible."

"Woah, there are some things that I don't want to know about."

Brittany turns around. "What about you Daria?"

"Brittany, don't other guys hit on you all the time? If you're relationship with Keibin is making you this twisted, maybe you should just find someone else?"

Brittany looks depressed and starts sniffling.

...

Quinn and Stacy walk into the ramen shop.

"Congratulations!"

Quinn and Stacy hurry over to the table where the congratulations came from. Waiting there is Daria, Natsuko, Minamo, Rikoko and Haruno. Daria and her fan club slurp noodles.

Quinn smiles. "Thanks guys. Has the video been put up yet?"

Haruno nods. "It's downloading as we speak."

"Daria, where that Jane girl?"

"Her and Trent had to go home."

"Did they like my outfit?"

Daria thinks. "Actually, we were too busy noticing Sandi's angry expression."

"No-ooooh!"

"Okay, here it is." Haruna starts the video on her laptop.

After watching Quinn and Stacy's dresses, Haruno stops the video. "Quinn, Stacy, let me ask you this again. Should I kick Sandi and Tiffany out of the modeling guild?"

Both Quinn and Stacy first look nervous, but then they look at each other and nod. "Yes." They say in unison.

Daria smiles. "I never thought I would live to see this day."

Quinn gives Daria a sad look. "You don't understand, we are doing this as a favor to Sandi and Tiffany. It's obvious that they have no aptitude for modeling and are only trying to fit in."

Stacy nods. "It's embarrassing. They really should go back to our previous school were they can stand out, not stay here and wonder why nothing is working for them."

Daria snickers. "I guess your mean girl credentials are still intact."

Quinn nods. "Sometimes friends have to be mean to each other."

"Especially when they deliberately make the dresses you guys slaved over look bad."

Stacy smirks. "Well, let's not mention that."

Haruno nods. "Well, I don't really care about your motivations. However, Daria is correct that Sandi's and Tiffany's performances were abysmal. I had worked for weeks trying to get those two to improve but not only did they ignore all of my suggestions for fixing their faults, they somehow managed to find new faults. I will be very happy to show them the door."

Daria smirks. "Well, sis, I guess you will have to block Sandi's number now."

Quinn winks. "I did that on the way over."

Natsuko nudges Haruno. "Hey, can I join the modeling guild?"

Haruno looks suspiciously at Natsuko. "You're an Harmony Project trainee like Rikoko, right?"

"Yes."

"How do I know that you won't do a mediocre job because you already have a tuition discount and don't need the modeling guild's discount?"

"Rikoko will vouch for me."

Haruno looks at Rikoko.

Rikoko shrugs her shoulders. "I guess so. She seems to work hard."

Natsuko shoots daggers out of her eyes at Rikoko for the halfhearted endorsement.

"Well, we have two openings coming up. I could give you a try."

...

"An elderly gangster came to Japan and was pleased by his nickname! Next on Hen Kanashi Sekei, the man they call 'ojiisan'." (8)

Daria's phone rings so she turns off the TV. "Did you guys get back okay?"

"Sure, Trent was just a little weirded out by the number of young girls looking at him like he was a bowl of ramen."

"I hope I wasn't doing that."

"Don't worry, Trent finds you non-threatening."

The word "non-threatening" pierces Daria's heart like an arrow. "Wait, if I am supposed to be an idol isn't that a bad thing?"

Jane chuckles. "So, now you are worried about such things? I see that the system is changing you."

"Yeah, and it stinks."

"Don't worry, being non-threatening is a good thing for an idol."

Daria makes a face.

...

Tomu and Keiban stand in line for the concert trying not to look uncomfortable together.

Tomu gets a text message from Jane. "Um, Keiban, can I ask you a personal question?"

"Hey, big guy, like I said before, I am the guy of this relationship."

"You're not, but the question has nothing to do with that. The question is are you calling Brittany?"

"No, I'm supposed to be going out with you."

"In public. Josephine doesn't care if you call in private."

"Oops. I'll bet Brittany is mad."

"Well, she's ready to give you up to me and move on."

"That sucks!"

"Then send her a text message."

"What should I say?"

"Try 'I'm sorry, will call tonight.'"

"You're the man Tomu-babe."

"That doesn't even make sense."

...

Minamo, Natsuko, Chisako, Daria, and Jane also stand in line.

Jane looks around. "Aren't we going to be joined by Miss Perfect-chan?"

Daria raises and eyebrow. "Rikoko? She's already inside. She's going to be performing."

"Just what I need to crush my self-esteem some more."

Daria looks annoyed. "Unless Rikoko can paint better than you, I can't feel sorry for you. If you had wanted to, you would have been on stage with her by now. But, you made a choice, an intelligent choice I might add, to not be on stage. Now you get to do what you love and have a hot, judging by your painting, boyfriend."

Natsuko nudges Minamo. "Scary atmosphere."

Jane laughs. "You're right. It's just seems unfair that there isn't three or four Jane Lane's so that I can do everything I could conceivably want in life."

"Well, isn't there two? You and Lane from the Wired?"

"They aren't allowed to exist in the same universe."

"Thank goodness, the world would not be safe."

"Oh, speaking of Tomu, there he is in that line section over there."

Daria raises an eyebrow.

"So, how did that blog post go?"

"It was kind of depressing. Alana has a very distinct writing style and a very strong personality. If I wrote something where she wasn't putting herself down, it would stand out like a sore thumb. So I wrote something upbeat and banal."

"I looked at her blog as well, that was a good choice."

Daria realizes that she has been ignoring her fan club. "So, Chisako, is this your first concert?"

"No, I had to go the last one as well. It was really colorful."

"Is there anyone you are looking forward to seeing onstage?"

"Well, Manaka has helped me out a lot so I want to make sure she does well. I am also interested in seeing how Rikoko does."

Minamo nudges Chisako. "You realize that this isn't a trainee recital, right? We're going to see Alana's group."

Chisako sticks out her tongue. "Oops!"

Daria chuckles. "Anyone you're looking forward to seeing Minamo?"

"Well, this is Alana's big night, but it is also Hamura Ayani's big night as well as she gets promoted to group and Harmony Project leader."

"Is that a big thing?"

"She will probably cry buckets. She loves Taiyaki School and probably feels really overwhelmed now."

Daria looks worried.

...

Daria, Miss Megumi, Chisato, Minamo, Jane, and Natsuko sit in a secluded section high up in the rafters. They all use the opera glasses that Megumi-sensei has brought.

"So, what do you think so far?"

Jane doesn't look away from her glasses. "Some interesting stuff so far. I am surprised at the guys in the area in front of the stage. Most of them are dancing in sync to the music."

Daria pans down with her glasses. "You're right. But, is that surprising?"

"Sure it is. Look at how short the skirts are in Alana's group. None of the guys are trying to peep them."

"That is surprising."

"Also, Alana's group has two chubby girls in it. But, neither one has a problem with keeping up with the dances."

"That's why they make the big bucks."

"Oh, and Tomu and Keibin are in that section over there."

Daria scans over and finds them.

"And, Trent is over there."

"I see him. He seems to be looking at his phone a lot."

"He's looking up the kanji for the lyrics. He likes T, remember?"

"Oh yeah." Daria nudges Miss Megumi. "Um, do guys always act like that in Harmony Project concerts, dancing around and not trying to peep up the girls skirts?"

Miss Megumi smiles. "They do. They feel protective of the girls as if they were their kid sisters, so they would have no interest in peeping them."

...

The lights go out after the last song.

Daria nudges Megumi. "Is that the end of the show?"

"No, the first encore is the graduation ceremony."

"Does she get a diploma?"

Miss Megumi laughs. "You'll see."

Minamo nudges Daria from behind. "When the music starts again watch the front couple of rows of fans."

"Okay."

"Oh, and the trainees will only participate in the second encore."

"Well, they deserve a break."

"I know, they did great! I was watching them the entire time."

Jane smirks. "I was trying not to watch them the entire time."

Minamo makes an angry face, but then smiles. "Did you succeed?"

"No, and I was filled with jealousy the whole time."

"Well, I'm jealous of them as well and I have to see them every week."

Daria grimaces. "Children?"

"Yes!"

The lights come on and soft instrumental version of one of Taiyaki School's songs starts playing. Alana comes out in a princess like ornate dress.

Daria scans the first couple of rows of fans. Most of them are crying. "Are they going to cry through the entire first encore?"

Minamo nods. "And, the second as well."

Alana gives a short speech, sounding very upbeat, saying that while she loved being a teen idol, she would soon no longer be a teen and that if she didn't pursue her dream of being a professional golfer now she might never get another chance.

The members of Alana's group then come out each with a bouquet of flowers. Each one gives Alana their flowers and makes a short statement. Alana then hands the flowers to a stage hand. Finally Hamura Ayoni gives Alana her flowers and barely makes out a statement through tears about she will never be ready to fill Alana's place.

The other members leave the stage and then Alana leads the crowd in a cheer, then leaves the stage.

Daria scans the front rows again and sees many of the guys curled up in a fetal position.

After several minutes Alana and her group and the trainees come out for one more song. Daria notes that the trainees do the dance for the song perfectly but Alana's group looks totally disorganized as many of the girls cannot contain their tears.

They leave the stage for the last time, but the crowd chants Alana's name for five minutes. Finally Alana comes out, bows, and goes to the back.

The fans start shuffling out of the building. Daria's group keeps sitting, knowing that it will be too crowded for a while to leave.

Daria nudges Miss Megumi. "So, why were the fans waving blue joysticks?"

"Blue is Alana's official color. All of her merchandise has that color."

"Merchandise?"

"Oh, we skipped the merchandise stand on the way in. We'll check it out when we can get out."

...

Daria's group reaches a balcony overlooking the merchandise stand.

"That's odd, I don't see any aqua blue merchandise."

Miss Megumi smirks. "They sold out before the concert started."

"Was this a concert where Harmony Project made a lot of money?"

"I don't have all the figures, but Alana sold the place out and I think that we sold about ninety percent of our merchandise so far. We might completely sell out before the last straggler leaves. So, I would guess we cleaned up. That is the power of a seven year girl."

"Do all girls get such a huge send off?"

Megumi lowers her head a little. "Well, Alana released four bikini photobooks and was on variety shows a lot playing an idiot character."

"Is she an idiot?"

"Of course not. But, she was good at playing one. It made her look nonthreatening."

Daria raises an eyebrow.

To be continued

(1) This was the title of the last Daria TV special.

(2) A idiomatic yojijukugo is a four Kanji character phrase whose meaning is different from the literal meaning. Here is it being used to mean a proverb.

(3) Kouhai means underclassman, but in this context it means "the person you will be mentoring".

(4) A taiyaki is a fish shaped filled pastry.

(5) A daifuku is a filled rice cake.

(6) Yaoi is manga and anime featuring boy/boy romantic relationships. They are almost always drawn by females and are always aimed at the female audience. Yaoi is a word that started as an acronym. It was originally an acronym for YAma nashi, Ochi nashi, Imi nashi (No peak (climax), no fall (punch line/denouement), no meaning) meaning that stories concentrated on the sex rather than the plot. Among women who are yaoi fans, the alternate acronym YAmete, Oshiri ga Itai (Stop! My butt hurts!) is popular.

(7) Because TFAS is an art school the junior high school students are not forced to wear school uniforms.

(8) This one is cross-cultural. An elderly gangster in America would enjoy being called an "OG" (original gangster). "Ojiisan" sounds like they are calling him "Mister OG", when in reality they are calling him "gramps" or "old man".